No Double Jeopardy in ‘Captain’s Mast’ Penalties

A federal appeals court reinstated a charge of possession of child pornography against a former Coast Guard sailor even though he received noncriminal military punishment, finding the federal civilian charge did not violate double jeopardy protections.

The captain of a Coast Guard ship Alex Haley reported to Alaska law enforcement that Christopher Stoltz was found with child porn on a laptop on board his ship, but after waiting seven months with no charges filed, the captain punished Stoltz in nonjudicial proceedings known as a “captain’s mast.”

Stoltz admitted the charge and as punishment was reduced in rank, fined $1,800 and restricted to the ship for 45 days.  In 2009, the Coast Guard did not offer to renew his service and he received a general discharged “under honorable conditions.”

Stoltz said he was not told during this process that if he had demanded a court-martial, then the U.S. could not charge him with the same crime in civilian court because of the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution, which prevents successive prosecution for the same offense.

When a charge of possession of child pornography was ultimately filed in federal court in Alaska, Stoltz challenged it on double jeopardy grounds.  A federal judge there dismissed the criminal charge.

On Thursday, the  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the civilian criminal count did not create double jeopardy problems because the military action was not a criminal proceeding.  The panel ordered the charge reinstated.

“There is no reason to dismiss this criminal indictment to remedy a procedural violation [failure to alert Stoltz to his ability to seek a court-martial instead of a non-judicial captain’s mast] that occurred in another, distinct proceeding,” said Judge Raymond Fisher.

Case:  U.S. v. Stoltz, No. 11-30297